FRANKFORT (AP) — The Senate passed legislation Tuesday that would update Kentucky law setting rules for hemp production in the state that’s at the national forefront in the crop’s comeback.
Senators voted 35-0 after little discussion to send the measure to the House.
It was a big contrast from four years ago, when the state’s original law that laid the groundwork for Kentucky farmers to eventually grow hemp drew stiff resistance.
“It has gone mainstream, and a lot of the concerns that were expressed four years ago have proven to be unfounded,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, one of the bill’s sponsors.
Kentucky’s experiment with hemp production is yielding more acreage and processors.
State agricultural officials approved 209 applications from growers, allowing them to produce up to 12,800 acres of hemp this year. Experimental projects began in Kentucky with a mere 33 acres in 2014. Last year, 137 growers were approved to plant up to 4,500 acres.
Hemp is prized for its oils, seeds and fiber.
Growing hemp without a federal permit has long been banned because of its classification as a controlled substance related to marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, but hemp has a negligible amount of THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Hemp got a limited reprieve from the 2014 federal Farm Bill, which allows state agriculture departments to designate hemp projects for research and development.
Kentucky’s original hemp law was enacted before Congress allowed hemp’s limited return.
“There were a lot of things that could not have been predicted about the Farm Bill exemption,” state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said Tuesday. “So this basically better aligns Kentucky law with the Farm Bill.”
The bill would expand circumstances to ban people from being involved in hemp to include those convicted of any type of felony or any drug-related misdemeanors or violations.
Currently, the 10-year ban applies to people convicted of drug-related felonies.
The bill would put into state law an appeals process for people denied licenses to grow hemp or those who have their licenses suspended or revoked. The state agriculture department started the appeals process this year as part of department policy for people turned down for licenses.
The legislation is the product of months of work by the state agriculture department, Kentucky State Police and University of Kentucky agriculture officials.
The legislation is Senate Bill 218.